Documents: Civil War / Reconstruction
Unlike the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution which speaks about “forming a more perfect union,” the Preamble to the Confederate Constitution acknowledged the “independent and sovereign character” of each state and declared its purpose to “form a permanent federal government.” The Confederate Constitution’s Preamble also omitted the words “common defense” and “general welfare,” and invoked “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” The Confederate Constitution limited the executive to a single six-year term of office. Confederate courts were prevented from exercising significant control over state laws. The legislative branch of the Confederate government was checked by the President exercising a line-item vote. Laws could only be about a single subject, and the subject had to be in the title of the law. Laws pertaining to the most important powers of the government had to be passed by super-majority votes, a percentage that is greater than 50%, rather than by simple 50% majority. Unlike the U. S. Constitution which lists important rights of the people in a Bill of Rights at the end of the Constitution, those same rights were incorporated into the body of the C. S. A. Constitution.
The two documents also differed significantly with respect to the institution of slavery. While the U. S. Constitution did not specifically contain the words “slaves,” “slavery,” or “slave trade,” it did allow slavery to continue, and three of its provisions did deal with slaves, slavery, or the slave trade without using those words. The C. S. A. Constitution specified that Congress could pass “no law…. denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves.” New states could be admitted, but the institution of slavery would have to be “recognized and protected” by territorial governments and Congress. The international slave trade was banned (as it had been in the U. S. since 1808), and the Confederate Congress could prevent slaves from being imported from states which were not part of the Confederacy. In fact, four clauses of the Confederate Constitution secured the legality of slavery in the Confederacy.
Lincoln began his address with these words: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ He concluded the Address by saying: “It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Because Lincoln believed that he lacked the constitutional authority to free slaves, he issued this document as a war measure in his capacity as Commander in Chief. One important result of the Emancipation Proclamation was that freed slaves were now welcomed into the Union’s armed forces. Further, the fact that some slaves were to be freed may have prevented Britain, where slavery was illegal, from entering the war on the side of the Confederacy. Historians argue that the Emancipation Proclamation added moral force to the Union cause and transformed the Civil War from a war to save the Union into a war for freedom and equality.
Lincoln’s goal had always been to unify the country, and he sought to heal the nation’s wounds when he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Lincoln was assassinated one month after giving this speech.